Cycling Basics

Cycling Basics


Chain Ring, Gears and More…

understanding and know how can make your bike training safe, easy and efficient. One of the first things you will need to understand is how to utilize gear ratio vs chain ring. On most tri/road bikes there are 2 chain rings the larger one is the one most people use rarely ever using the small ring. Well if you been out riding on a windy day or on a hill course, you’ll know that just using the large chain ring will make your ride tough and miserable. 

The large chain ring is used as the standard ring on rides in general as the pace gets faster and on relatively flatter courses. The smaller chain ring is used as an alternate as the elements and terrain gets tougher. So if you are on a hilly course and the elevation becomes a factor or you are faced with climbs such as bridge this is when you should shift into the smaller chain ring then shift through your gears to find the proper ratio to make your climb comfortable, not expending energy or exerting muscles. The smaller chain ring can also make a difference when faced with windy conditions, especially on a long distance ride, shifting to the smaller chain ring while riding into a steady head wind will allow you to spin at a steady cadence with less resistance and effort allowing you to conserve energy, extending overall performance.

Another helpful tip in understanding gear use is when face with yielding or stopping, especially when group riding, having other athletes are depending your position in the group. When coming to a intersection needing to yield or stop you should start shifting into easier gears ahead of time ableing you to slow and prepare to stop if needed, but excellerate with ease if the group does not stop but yields then takes off continuing the pace. If you are coming to a stop you should have down shifted into your easy gears as you unclip one foot ahead of the stop ready to dismount or just have the foot touch the ground. Then being in an easy gear you will be able to take off from the stop without a struggle, keeping your balance and ability to get back to pace safely.


Cadence is your pedal speed typically measured in revolutions per minute, and factors into your chain ring vs gear ratio performance. Understanding the importance of pedal cadence is the key to the most efficient use of your endurance and power on the bike. Knowing at all times the gear you are riding, your heart rate, and your pedal cadence is a much better indicator of how well your “motor” is performing than your speed down the road. Speed is too dependent on variables you cannot control like temperature, humidity, wind, road grade, road surface, other riders, etc. If you gauge your performance on the bike by the average speed of your ride, you will not have an accurate picture of your cycling fitness.

Cadence is part of the equation for determining your power output. Here is a simple physics lesson. 

Work = Total Force x Distance
Power = Work/Time 

The more work you do in a shorter period of time implies you generate more power. In a given gear, for every pedal revolution, you move your weight and the weight of the bike a given distance. In addition you also have to overcome the drag forces caused by the friction of the tires on the road surface (relatively small) and the drag forces generated by your motion through the air (relatively large). Cadence introduces the time element to calculate your power output. For a constant gear, the faster your cadence, the more work you are generating in a given unit of time and hence the higher your power output.


Okay, so what kind of pedal cadence makes for the most efficient power output for cycling? In general, an average pedal cadence of 90 rpm is what most riders should strive for. This is not a number that is random but has been used for many years in the pro cycling ranks. Nearly every book written on bike racing by riders and coaches like Greg Lemond, Eddie B., Davis Phinney, Bernard Hinault, Edmund Burke, and Chris Carmicheal use 90-95 rpm as a good training and racing cadence. Proper choice of gear and this type of cadence will lead to the most efficient and productive training/racing results for the rider (triathletes should note that maintaining your cadence in this range will keep your legs feeling better for the run that typically follows the cycling portion of your races).


In most situations, 90-100 rpm on flat to rolling terrain is an excellent cadence to use for training, fitness riding, touring, and racing. When climbing hills, your cadence will probably drop down to 70-85 rpm depending upon the steepness or grade of the hill (however note that Lance Armstrong has been astounding the pro cycling ranks by pedaling up the mountain stages of the Tour De France at 90-95 rpm).


Many riders try to push too large a gear at too low of a cadence. I have seen this a lot on our local training rides. Riders who get dropped on hills or “blow up” three-quarters of the way on a long ride are probably riding in too big of a gear and pedaling too low of an average cadence. Disciplining yourself to maintain an average cadence of 90 rpm for most of your riding will give you the best results. As you become stronger and fitter, strive to “spin” the larger gears at +90 rpm. On recovery rides, “spin” the lower gears at 95-105 rpm, teaching your muscles leg speed.
Take the time to install a computer with cadence and use it to develop fast and smooth leg speed. Many pros use the time between November and January (winter off season training) to ride small gears or fixed gear bikes at a higher 90-110 rpm average cadence for long base miles to develop leg speed. If it works for the pros, it should work for you.

Using Your Aerobars

Aerobars are a get tool used in time trial and triathlon riding because the aero position you will be more efficient, with less resistance while riding. But, knowing how to get in and out of the bars are a little tricky and scary when using them for the first time. The key to this is keeping your balance and this is done by shifting your center balance, keeping your weight on your seat and NOT on your arms when getting in and out of the aerobars. So when I am getting into my aerobars, I will focus my weight/center of gravity on my seat, then balance myself with one hand holding my handle bars as I lower the other arm into the aero position, still keeping my weight shifted on the seat, I then move my other arm into the aero position. Coming out of the aero position, I focus on shifting my weight back to the seat allowing me to only have to balance myself while moving one hand to the handle bars as I sitting up right then move the other hand to the handle bars.

Equipment you may consider to enhance your performance:

Computer with cadence, clip in shoes, aerobars, indoor bike trainer and a heart rate monitor.

Our sponsors can assist you with the proper gear and equipment with a GNOTRI members discount:

NOTE: You should not use the aerobars position when in tight group rides or on hazardous road/weather conditions.